#52 The Bank Dick

Watched: October 21 2016

Director: Edward F. Cline

Starring: W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Grady Sutton, Franklin Pangborn

Year: 1940

Runtime: 1h 12min

Note: since one sister (Sister the Youngest) fucked off to Oslo for a week, Sister the Oldest watched this one alone. Well, not alone, as she does have friends apart from her immediate family. So she watched it with a friend. Who’s real.

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Bumbling buffoon Egbert Sousé (Fields) drinks too much, has no career to speak of and his family does not respect him. So he goes out in search of a drink. On the way, he stumbles across a film team whose drunken director is unable to work and naturally they hire Sousé.

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Anyone capable of sitting on a chair shouting into a tube is automatically qualified to work as a director in 1940. Sadly, Sousé isn’t really able to do the former.

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After his short stint as director, Sousé finds himself in the vicinity of bank robbers trying to escape. He is credited with stopping them and so gets a job as a bank guard. His daughter’s fiancé Og Oggilby (Sutton) works in the same bank and after Sousé is offered the chance to invest in stock in a mining company, he persuades his future son-in-law to “borrow” $500 from the bank.

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“Of course it’s okay to borrow money from the bank! I’m head of security, aren’t I? Check out my trustworthy face!”

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Unfortunately, a bank examiner, J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Pangborn) shows up the very next day and Sousé and Oggilby must join wits (of which Og especially has very little) to keep the examiner to discover the missing $500. Let the farce commence!

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Rule number one when being investigated: take the investigator out for drinks and slip them a mickey.

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This is a very silly movie full of fucked up characters, over-the-top performances and slapstick humour. The main character is gullable, stupid and self-aggrandizing, yet he is also occasionally likeable, possibly because the way his family treats him makes you feel a bit sorry for him. But usually not for long, as he parries their attacks on him with attempted murder such as when he tries to throw a concrete vase at his youngest daughter.

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It’s practically as big as its intended target

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The real gem here though is the car chase towards the end of the film. It is fast, funny and impressive in so many ways – such as the very real danger in which it must have put stunt performers. Even if farcical slapstick films aren’t  your thing, it is well worth watching The Bank Dick for this scene alone. Or if you enjoy violence against 8-year-olds. And let’s face it – who doesn’t? Have fun!

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Naturally, no still can do a great chase scene justice, so you’ll just have to watch the film.

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What we learned: poor men are mad – rich men are eccentric. Also, it was surprisingly easy to get a job as a director back in the day.

Next time: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

#38 A Night at the Opera

Watched: September 10 2016

Director: Sam Wood

Starring: The Marx Brothers

Year: 1935

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Is there anything left to say on the Marx Brothers? We think not, and so we will not, except to tell you to watch this one too. Boom! Shortest blog entry in 1000filmsblog history!

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Cue out-of-context pictures

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What we learned: we still love the Marx Brothers. Groucho is still the most quotable bastard in movie history. Chico is still our favourite pianist. Harpo is still creepily likable. Zeppo is still oddly replaceable…

Next time: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

#32 Sons of the Desert

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: William A. Seiter

Starring: Stanley Laurel, Oliver Hardy

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 8min

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We have to be honest here, and say that this is not our favourite from the list. The opening scene is wonderful though. The “Sons of the Desert,” a second-rate freemason society, are having a meeting discussing their upcoming annual convention. Enter Laurel and Hardy (or Moss and Roy if you will), climbing over other attendees in order to get to the vacant chairs. This is by far the funniest scene in the film.

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“I cannot believe they let us in. Makes me question whether membership is really worth it, considering the riff-raff they let join…”

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At the meeting, all members have to take an oath to attend the convention in Chicago the next week, and our two “heroes” have to figure out a way to go, given that they are both under the thumbs of their wives. Laurel, being an honest simpleton, gets permission from his wife just by asking, but Hardy tries too hard to be “the king of his own castle” and his wife forbids him to go. Thus, they must scheme and plot.

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“Only Honolulu can cure the man flu!”

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They manage to go under the pretense of traveling to Hawaii for Hardy’s health, but the ship they were supposed to come back on sinks and the wives (believing they might now be widows) go to the movies. Because that’s what you do when your spouse might be dead. There, a newsreel shows their supposedly drowned husbands at the Sons of the Desert convention and they realise they have been tricked.

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Thank God Hardy’s wife isn’t violent and unstable! Then she might have overreacted.

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There are some very funny scenes in this, some silly slapstick, a farcical plot, and a good musical number with a girl who looks like Olivia Colman and Mae Whitman had a love child (which is a good thing!) but on the whole we were slightly underwhelmed. Or possibly just whelmed. It’s OK for a hungover Sunday afternoon though.

What we learned: where the trope of nagging wives and lying husbands came from (although it’s possible that’s an even older stereotype). Also, spousal abuse is apparently hilarious if it’s from a woman to a man.

Next time: The Invisible Man (1933)

#28 Duck Soup

Watched: August 27 2016

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: The Marx Brothers

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 8min

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There’s very little we can say about this comedy classic that hasn’t already been said. The Marx Brothers are back with more zany antics, political intrigue and comedy gold, and we loved it.

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“Zeppo, show some skin, or you won’t be in this one!”

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The country of Freedonia is in dire financial trouble and its main backer, Mrs. Teasdale, will only help if the government appoints Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) their new leader. The ambassador of neighbouring Sylvania is trying to take over Freedonia, and sends in spies Chicolini and Pinky (Chico and Harpo, respectively) to get information on Firefly.

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“Sir, we couldn’t find a lot of dirt on him on account of our incompetence, but his dancing is surely criminal. Can you work with that?”

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After a series of insults between Firefly and ambassador Trentino, the two countries declare war and Freedonia gears up with a musical number.

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You can’t have a good war unless it kicks off with a musical number

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The film is hilarious throughout, but worthy of special mention are a few scenes. Most notable is the mirror bit where Harpo, dressed as Groucho, has to mirror his movements after shattering the actual mirror. It’s wonderfully funny and very impressive. Other great scenes include the rallying of the troops during the battle, where stock footage is used to show fire engines and elephants, among others, coming to their aid, and the doghouse tattoo including a live, barking dog.

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“Damn! I’m even more handsome than I thought!”

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What we learned: Incorporate more musical numbers into our daily lives.

Next time: Footlight Parade (1933)

#19 Monkey Business

Watched: August 19 2016

Director: Norman McLeod

Starring: The Marx Brothers

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 17min

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Another silly, silly Marx Brothers film – this time at sea. Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo play four stowaways who run around generally being disruptive and getting themselves into trouble on an America-bound ship. Nothing new there.

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Fact: this is how they travelled while they were still doing their stage shows.

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As always, the brothers are very entertaining and we could watch them just being the Marx Brothers all day. After about half an hour though, they decide to add in a plot where all the stowaways are roped into being bodyguards/”tough guys” for a couple of rival gangsters (two brothers on each side). Also, one of them (Zeppo, who actually gets to play a proper part this time) falls in love with one of the gangsters’ daughter. In between the great gags, excellent lines and equally brilliant music numbers, there is a kidnapping plot and a fight scene in a barn.

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And Groucho has a very strange and unlikely romance with a gangster’s wife. Which has remarkably few consequences.

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Some comparison to Animal Crackers, which we loved, must be made. We loved this one too, especially the stowaway-thing since we’ve both had a soft spot for stowaways since The Greatest Norwegian Movie of All Time: Haakon Haakonsen a.k.a. Shipwrecked (1990). Monkey Business feels slightly less theatrical than its predecessor, probably because there are more variations to the sets and locations. It features some amazing lines, such as “a man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars” and Zeppo gets to participate more – he even gets the girl!

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Which is fairly realistic, given the inclinations of most women as well as the competition.

Chico plays the piano again (yay!), Harpo attempts to rape random women (very much not yay!), Groucho is a cheeky fucker and Zeppo looks like their minder. In other words, it’s definitely worth watching. Although we missed the big musical number from Animal Crackers. And there’s no actual monkey.

What we learned: we need to step up our wordplay game.

Next time: The Public Enemy (1931)

#14 City Lights

Watched: August 12 2016

Director: Charles Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h

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And we’re back to silent films. This time a tramp, a blind flower girl and a suicidal millionaire point out the vast differences between the rich and the poor. There’s also some very aggressive twirling on a dance floor and a well choreographed boxing match.

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“I just want some human contact…”

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City Lights is not as devastating as The Gold Rush (as in we didn’t have to take breaks to cry our eyes out), but it has some of the same melancholy and a certain sense of despondency.

The Tramp meets a beautiful, blind flower girl and (at first inadvertently, then knowingly) tricks her into thinking he is rich. He also befriends a millionaire by stopping him drowning himself and thus gets the means to woo her (note to self: be on the lookout for suicidal millionaires).

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“Yes, miss, I’m totes rich!”

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Unfortunately, each time the millionaire sobers up he forgets all about the Tramp, so his income is sporadic at best. Still, all our favourite scenes were with the two of them including the aforementioned aggressive dancing.

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“Everyone’s about to get served!”

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We kind of preferred the Tramp when he was a prospector, probably because this time he tricks the blind girl into thinking he’s something he’s not. He is still funny and sweet though, and he means well. After reading an article about sight-restoring surgery, he decides to get a job and help out the flower girl. Hence the boxing match (as well as an actual job as a street sweeper, but that is less well choreographed..).

There’s slapstick, lots of physical comedy and everything else you’d expect from Chaplin, including a soundtrack composed by him which works really well with the visual. The ending is slightly ambivalent so feel free to interpret that as you wish. An enjoyable watch, but not as wonderful as some of the other films we’ve seen for this project. However, given the awesomeness of the list, it’s still miles better than most films in the world.

Things we learned: drunk friends aren’t real friends. Unless you get them drunk again.

Next time: Dracula (1931) (Oboy, oboy, oboy!)

#12 Animal Crackers

Watched: August 11 2016

Director: Victor Heerman

Starring: The Marx Brothers

Year: 1930

Runtime: 1h 37min

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have moved on to talkies! And a talkie with musical numbers to boot!

This is a very different kind of absurd from Un Chien Andalou, and thankfully free from eye-stuff… Animal Crackers is a silly Marx Brothers comedy with lots of physical and verbal humour which made us both snort with laughter throughout (but, you know, snort in a very charming, feminine way). Despite Harpo’s quest to rape that poor girl, the film is funny, farcical and very silly indeed. You can clearly see Mel Brooks (among others) being influenced by the Marx Brothers, and never has the word “suicide” been pronounced better.

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Chico Marx has the best piano playing technique you’ll ever see

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The plot goes something like this: a wealthy society lady throws a party in honour of famous explorer Jeffrey T. Spaulding (fittingly for this project, the T stands for Edgar). During the course of the party, a valuable painting is replaced and stolen several times. However, the plot is just an excuse to showcase the visual gags, brilliant one liners and general comedic and artistic skills of Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx, with poor Zeppo having a small part as the straight man. I can see why Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) would identify with him.

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Guess who is the one without superpowers…

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The film is whimsical, zany and hilarious as well as very quotable (our new chorus is “Pardon me while I have a strange interlude”). If comedy’s not your thing (really? You don’t like comedy? Who doesn’t like comedy?), then it’s worth watching for the musical numbers in the beginning as well as all the pretty dresses worn by the party-goers. Enjoy!

Next time: L’Age d’Or (1930)

#9 The Cameraman

Watched: August 9 2016

Directors: Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 09min

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In this rollercoaster ride, the exquisite Buster Keaton portrays a slightly creepy hair-sniffing tintype photographer who falls instantly in love with a charming young lady played by the beautiful Marceline Day. He finds out that she works for MGM News Reel and promptly decides to get a job there as a cameraman. Which is kind of stalkery, but he is so nonthreatening that he gets away with it. He is also adorably uncoordinated with the camera, and slapstick ensues.

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“Which emotion am I conveying now?”

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The characters are very likable. Probably for the first time (in terms of films we’ve watched for this project), the hero has fallen for a lady worth making good for. Sally is sweet and kind, and she tries to help him and give him advice when he accidentally double exposes all of his footage. She does not seem to care that he has very little money, and she appears to genuinely enjoy his company. No wonder, considering all the other douches creeping on her. At least Buster can do magic tricks!

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“Where did my coin go now, do you think?”

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The physical comedy is this film is wonderful. There’s an amazing one-man baseball scene, a hilarious stair-running bit, a brilliant scene on a bus and a very enjoyable running gag with a police officer. As well as a delightful scene in a dressing room, which I’m sure we would have enjoyed even if he didn’t get undressed…

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Oh, what is this picture doing here? Must have snuck in by mistake

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This is the one I meant to post. With the distinctly non-sexy swimwear. Yes, that’s the one

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Among its many merits, The Camerman has a shoot out scene which rivals that of Spaced (1999-2001), and there’s a bit with a monkey. It is considered by many Keaton’s last masterpiece as he lost creative control of his movies around this time and eventually descended into alcoholism. Which is not funny. But the film is. So if, like us, you have developed a major crush on Buster Keaton, this is a definite must-see.

Next time: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

#8 Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Watched: August 3 2016

Directors: Charles Reisner & Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton

Year: 1928

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Only the second Buster Keaton film and we’re already in love. He is so incredibly physically gifted, and when you combine that with his stony face you cannot avoid falling for him.

The plot is not overly complicated, but it works. A boat captain, Steamboat Bill, is being forced out of the business by a mogul named King(!). Simultaneously, the captain’s estranged son, the eponymous hero, is coming to see him for the first time since he was a baby (the son that is – not the father). Bill, Jr. is nothing like his father pictured or wanted which leads to one of the best make-over scenes in history.

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“Again, behold my happy face!”

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Bill Jr.’s relationship with King’s daughter is also a source of discord between father and son. They have a kind of Romeo and Juliet-thing going on except with more slapstick and less murder and suicide.

If you ever need an excuse to watch Buster Keaton being awesome this is it (not that anyone needs an excuse). The main part of the film is just him doing spectacular stunts and showing off his (pre-B-Boy) power moves. It’s hilarious and awe-inspiring, and you can watch the whole thing here. It’s also educational; among other things we have now learned that coconut shells were the legos of the 1920s (in terms of damage to bare feet). If you need further prompting, Steamboat Bill, Jr. includes one of Keaton’s most memorable moments; the house falling-scene.

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Watch it, laugh, enjoy, fall in love.

Next time: The Cameraman (1928) (Yay! More Keaton!)